Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Rodent response

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Rodent response dog on duty
Photo: The Lord Howe Island Signal

Rodent response activity – update 28 May 2021

To date 38 rats (10 adults, 21 juveniles, 7 pups) have been detected and removed.

All rodent activity detected to date has been within the northern settlement area. The small number of rats remaining in the settlement area that have been detected continue to be actively monitored, baited and trapped.

Field crews from LHI and NPWS continue to monitor detection devices across the island and three dog handlers and detection dogs are working systematically through the settlement area and targeted locations.

Rodent response
Photos: The Lord Howe Island Signal

Earlier this week another successful “cordon and capture” operation was carried out with our detection dogs Nui and Sebbi having both indicated presence of recent rodent activity. The operation was swiftly initiated with assistance from LHI and NPWS and resulted in the successful capture and removal of a juvenile from the northern settlement area.

Rodent capture map

Mapping dog detection searches

Detection dogs are key in our monitoring and surveillance efforts. The intelligence gained from dog searches and detection devices is integral to planning our response. The map below shows detection dog activity since the incursion began. With the red indicating greater dog search time. The black crosses show rodent captures.

Lord Howe Island Board Report – rodent response

The response to the rodent incursion, which was first initiated on 15 April 2021, continues. The Lord Howe Island Board (LHIB) and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) field crews are working together with rodent control experts undertaking rodent baiting and monitoring in and around the settlement area and on the fringes of the Permanent Park Preserve. The team currently working on the rodent response includes specialists from Lord Howe Island, mainland NSW, Tasmania and New Zealand.

As of 21 May, a total of 30 rats had been captured (8 adults, 14 juveniles and 7 pups) all in the settlement area.

Locations where rats have been detected continue to be actively monitored using detection dogs and field teams checking an extensive network of monitoring stations. Additional monitoring and bait stations have been introduced to manage the incursion. This complements the permanent monitoring stations in the settlement area (371) and the Permanent Park Preserve (110). Despite vigilant monitoring, no rats have been detected in the Permanent Park Preserve. All detections to date have been in the northern settlement area.

The combination of detection, surveillance and removal techniques being used are proving successful. Our Lord Howe Island based dog handlers and detection dogs have been joined by additional dogs from Port Macquarie and Tasmania. In the next month additional dogs from New Zealand will also join the team. These teams have been invaluable in detecting the rats and are integral to planning our response.  Detection dog handlers are targeting locations of recent rodent sightings or where monitoring stations indicate recent rodent activity.

Whilst it will take some weeks for the DNA analysis to be finalised, best current information indicates the rats found over the last month are from an incursion and not remaining individuals from the 2019 eradication program based on relatively low numbers and concentrated distribution. Once final results of the analysis from the Australian Museum are known they will be made public.

Biosecurity is a critical priority for addressing rodent incursions. The LHI Board is working closely with Birdon in Port Macquarie to ensure freight deliveries are able to continue with heightened biosecurity arrangements in place for the MV “Island Trader”.

The response will take time with sustained surveillance effort over the coming months to ensure no rodents from this incursion remain on the island.

Putting our best paw forward

Our efforts to combat the rodent incursion include a range of skilled and experienced team members from Lord Howe Island, mainland NSW, Tasmania and New Zealand. Some of our key team members just happen to have four paws. Our detection dogs, along with their handlers of course, are on the front line performing a valuable role in detecting the presence of rats and guiding our monitoring and trapping efforts.

Detection dogs are not only used for law enforcement purposes such as detecting substances such as explosives, illegal drugs or finding missing criminals etc. Detection dogs are also used in all sorts of conservation work to track rare animals, locate threatened native species and detect pest species. Dogs have enhanced smelling ability which is powered by their dual smelling system and 300 million scent sensors. In comparison, humans only have 5 million sensors. They are trained to use their senses to detect substances, in this case rodents.

Lord Howe’s biosecurity dog team Sebbi and Zuma are used for general biosecurity at our local ports with biosecurity detection dogs Rafa and Taylor based at Port Macquarie.

During this current rodent response we have four detection dogs working with their handlers to undertake searches around the northern settlement area. They’re searching for signs of rodents and guiding our efforts for trapping. Each handler and their dog are allocated a specific area to search each day. If a dog indicates the presence of rats, then targeted measures are used including monitoring cameras and baits to locate and capture the individual.

It takes teamwork – the dog handlers and detection dogs form a tight, hardworking team who play a vital role along with skilled and experienced crews and rodent experts to combat the rodents.

The dogs are passionate about their work and just love finding rats.

Meet the team

Nui
Nui in action. Photo: The Lord Howe Island Signal

Nui is a little dog with a big job. This fox terrier / border terrier cross from Tasmania has been brought to the island to help with the rodent response. Nui has worked on the rat eradication program on Macquarie Island so has experience in protecting World Heritage Areas. “He’s very enthusiastic about his work” said Biosecurity Tasmanian’s Dr Sue Robinson. Nui comes from a famous line of conservation dogs from New Zealand and his mother Clay has also joined us from Tasmania to help out.

Response dog team
L-R: Nui (son of Clay), fox terrier/ border terrier cross, Tasmania; Clay (mother of Nui), fox terrier/ border terrier cross, Tasmania; Taylor (daughter of Sebi), springer spaniel, Port Macquarie; Sebi (father of Taylor, springer spaniel, Lord Howe Island.

What can I do?

You can assist the response by doing the following:

  • Cleaning and removing any open compost heaps
  • Cleaning and removing as much as possible and food scraps associated with chicken pens
  • Quickly reporting any potential rodent sightings to the Lord Howe Island Board.

Thank you to all residents who have reported sightings and assisted the response operations by allowing access to your properties. If you have any concerns with property access or would like to report rodent sign or a sighting, please call 6563 2066 or email the Board at biosecurity@lhib.nsw.gov.au.

The Lord Howe Island Signal 31 May 2021

This article appeared in The Lord Howe Island Signal, 31 May 2021.

Related story: Opinion letters to ABC News and The Hon. Matt Kean MP – rodent eradication

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